The BMW 3-series is the ultimate expression of driving pleasure. The legacy started with the E30 and has been carried forward with each and every generation – the E36, E46, E90, F30 and F30 LCI. As you might have guessed, I was itching to get behind the wheel of the latest 3-series. I have always loved the previous generation 3-series for its driving dynamics and have been trying to get my hands on a pre-owned car, especially in the 325i guise. Well, save for the 325i that I was looking out for, my other wish came true on one cold evening in Mumbai. BMW India had given us the latest 3-series facelift (F30 LCI) in the 320d avatar for not 1 or 2 days, but for an entire week! First feeling after seeing the BMW 320d was pure ecstasy! There she stood, absolutely resplendent in a beautiful red dress and…was she a looker!! We decided to take her for a long drive to none other than the beautiful and scenic state of Goa!
This was my first time driving a BMW, so I had to be careful at each and every step I took and get accustomed to the car as soon as possible. Sadly that didn’t happen, not due to any fault with the car ergonomics, in fact, it was due to the insane Mumbai traffic that I faced firsthand. You are always aware of the size of the car and the long bonnet does not help the case in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Also, everyone around you seems to be in a hurry, especially 2-wheelers and you just hope that they don’t leave a scratch or two on your baby. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I reached my home some 40 kms away, and parked it, scratch less, for the rest of the night!
With a wedding in the family and the hulabaloo associated with it, I used the car to transfer some of the luggage for the pre-wedding photoshoot. This was the time when I had mixed reactions, after I opened the boot to load in the luggage. There was a space-saver wheel stationed in the boot, which is a welcome change as BMW never offered one, on the previous generation cars. Although, the downside is that it takes up lots of space in the boot. The drive that day also helped me get comfortable with the low seating position and the driver-focused cabin, thanks to some free-flowing traffic, where I could press on the accelerator a bit more. The car felt engaging and I had just started to enjoy it as we reached the photoshoot location. We had to park it for the rest of the day and this is where I needed some external guidance. The long bonnet and absence of front parking sensors and a rear parking camera, coupled with the heavy steering takes some getting used to. Although, BMW does offer rear parking sensors.
The next day we were all set to leave for Goa by evening. But before that, I decided to take the car for a short drive to Lonavala. This drive helped me get accustomed completely to the car. We took the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the journey took us around 2 hours, given the mandatory stop at the Food Court just after the Khopoli Toll Booth. We encountered some slow-moving traffic in the Lonavala Ghat, but soon we took the exit that goes towards Lonavala town. We headed directly to Tiger Point, where our craving for some cheese corn pakoda and Maggi was satiated. With our tummies full, we went further ahead to Aamby Valley, where the serpentine roads were brought to life by some tyre-screeching action. Putting the car in Sport mode and using the paddle shifters was a joy in itself around the bends that head towards Aamby Valley. From there onwards it was a non-stop drive from Aamby valley to Mumbai and we were back by afternoon. I let it cool down for the upcoming big journey to Goa and gave it a wash in preparation for it.
After a few delays, we left Mumbai at 10 pm and were greeted by some traffic at Kharghar and Panvel, thanks to road construction work going on there. We took the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which later joins State Highway 48 towards Satara and Kolhapur. The road is fairly smooth throughout the approximately 415 kms journey from Mumbai to Nipani, from where you take the exit from the smooth tarmac. The Nipani exit is approximately 40 kms from Kolhapur and your first marker towards this point is Hotel Goa on your left. A few kilometres ahead, there is a steep ghat section and a couple of twisties later, voila…You reach the Nipani exit, or rather the Goa exit. These markers are very easy to miss, as the roads in this last section are velvet smooth and you tend to carry a lot more speed on this arrow straight road. This allowed me to test the straight line stability of the BMW 320d, which is nothing short of breathtaking. Knowing this route a fair bit and the roads that lay ahead, I decided to have a ball with my companion for this journey! With the roads looking like an empty runway, I stomped on the accelerator to hit approximately 170 kmph and boy, did it get my heart racing! The roads took a turn for the worse after the turning point, that is, the Nipani exit.
The exit takes you on the Nipani Gadhinglaj road, but be careful not to take the road that leads to Gadhinglaj. Instead, carry on straight till you reach Uttur, a village from where you need to take a left turn. From here you head to Ajara which is a bustling town in the Gadhinglaj district. This place is famous for the sugarcane factory that is located in Gavse, and now you know where all the tractors and trucks carrying loads of sugarcane were heading to. Not many know this, but most of the broiler supplies to Goa come from this very town. A mention has to be made here about the roads that lead to Ajara, which are in the worst of conditions and need immediate repair. I had to baby the car over the bad stretches, as I didn’t want to hurt the factory-fresh BMW in any which way. Reaching Ajara was a relief, as I knew now that I was just 35 kms far from my next check point, Amboli. This section was covered in quick time, thanks to flowing roads, but one has to be careful of ill-driven cars and overloaded trucks. Cross the Amboli check post and you are soon welcomed by the huge waterfall on the left that has been a tourist attraction for years together. The waterfall area has a lot of stalls that serve hot bhajia and chai. The climate here is cool and pleasant throughout the year and tourists come here to get respite from the summer heat and during the monsoons, when the waterfall is in its full glory amidst lush, green surroundings. From Amboli, it is 30 kms of downhill turns and twists till you reach Sawantwadi. From here onwards, it was a 60 kms drive to the capital of Goa, Panaji.
The entire journey to my house, located in the city took approximately 10 hrs and I reached home at 8 am in the morning. Covering a distance 585 kms, this is the quickest route to Goa, but not the shortest. One can also take the old Mumbai-Goa highway, that is much slower thanks to single lane traffic, but is the most scenic of them all. Another route you could come by is, heading ahead of Nipani towards Belgavi, and then taking the Chorla Ghat into Goa. This is the longest route towards Panaji, but is the route you would like to choose if you are going to spend your stay majorly in South Goa.
After such a long journey, I was definitely tired, but a reading on the instrument cluster got me going again! There was quite a bit of fuel left in the car, thanks to the large 57-litre fuel tank and amazing fuel efficiency. The DTE showed me 600 kms, with over half a tank of fuel left remaining. The BMW 320d facelift is equipped with the Engine Start/Stop function which switches off the engine when the car comes to a standstill and your foot is planted on the brake. The end result is that you get excellent fuel economy even in stop-go traffic situations. The car was constantly giving an impressive 12-13 kmpl in city traffic conditions. Out on the highway, the car delivered a figure of 18.1 kmpl.
The day I spent at home had me noticing the subtle changes BMW made to the 320d facelift. Up front, it gets new eyes in the form of full LED headlamps and even foglamps, which are full LED units. The BMW kidney grille on this Sportline variant is finished in high gloss black with a chrome outlining. The sides remain unchanged and come with 17-inch double spoke alloy wheels. The rear again sees minor changes, with new LED detailing in the taillights and a mildly resculpted bumper. Even though there aren’t much sheet metal changes, the BMW 320d still looks sporty and fresh, even after 4 years of its initial launch here in India.
After a good rest, I had something special lined up for the next day. I decided to take the car into the inner sections of Goa, exploring some places that I had not been to before. So I gave it a quick body wash and headed out to explore South Goa. I was also searching for a suitable location for a photoshoot and hence, let the exploring begin. First place to go to, was the Verna Industrial Estate. Behind this area lies a huge open road that is usually used for drag races. No one usually ventures in this area and I still wonder why this road was actually built. It also meant that I could utilise this road openly for the photoshoot of this magnificent machine! Imagine a 4 lane highway, that’s how broad it is, albeit without any restrictions.
After the photoshoot in Verna, I headed straight to the Three Kings Church located in Cansaulim, a remote village. As a kid, I had heard many haunted stories about it and many locals still believe that one should avoid this area after midnight. The view from this church is simply breathtaking though. It is located on a hill and all you can see below is green and blue. Acres and acres of trees which further ahead, meet the sea. It was a mesmerizing sight to see and one could just sit there all day long, taking in the cool breeze. The drive down from this hill is filled with twists and turns, but one has to avoid going fast here, as the road is very narrow and oncoming scooters add to the risk.
Coming on to the main road was a relief and the road ahead was even more beautiful. The road was billiard table smooth and oh, the landscapes are a sight to behold. The single lane internal road is flanked by fields on both sides, with mountains in the far end perfectly complementing the blue skies. Being a resident of Goa, I sometimes forget about the beauty of this place, and made me realise that I am indeed lucky to have origins in this place. After having spent the entire morning and noon, shooting and driving the BMW 320d facelift, I was feeling hungry and I knew of the perfect place to head to, for some delicious fish, curry and rice. Sharda Classic, a joint on the outskirts of Margoa, offers a Fish Thali at an affordable Rs. 170/-. I feasted on the rava-fried Kingfish and headed back to the car. From here on I headed to Vasco to explore my most favourite road in Goa.
The road that goes from Chicalim to Cortalim has to be the choice of every true driving enthusiast in Goa. It consists of smooth tarmac and flowing turns, and when you have something like the BMW 320d, the joy multiplies manifold. The car just hugs the corners and the grip from the Bridgestone Potenza’s is brilliant. On this road there is another beautiful place called St. Jacinto Island. This place is connected to the main land via a small bridge and is a tiny islet which is known for it’s holy church and beautiful surroundings. I chose this place to shoot the interiors of the car, and that’s when I noticed the differences this Sportline trim brings to the table.
You get a bigger 8.8-inch iDrive display, and since this is the Sportline variant, you get an all black interior too, with piano black finishes and red trim highlights to bring out that sporty feel. In fact, even the car key comes with the red trim! Both the front sport seats are electrically adjustable and come with adjusts for side bolstering too. This is a feature that is taken straight from the M3, which is the high performance version of the 3-series. The iDrive screen can be controlled via the rotary knob placed on the centre console. There is a dual zone climate control system and rear AC vents to cool down the rear passengers. The rear seat is pretty wide and has good headroom and legroom, but you sit pretty low and seat cushioning is on the harder side. Also, the rear is best for two adults as the central transmission tunnel intrudes quite a bit into the cabin. After a thorough interior analysis, I head straight to Panaji. It was late evening and time for peak hour traffic as you enter the city, mainly due to the construction work of the 3rd Mandovi bridge that is underway. In the short time that it was with me, the car had managed to carve a niche in my heart!
The new day arose to see us begin our return journey towards Mumbai with a heavy heart. So once again I gave it a thorough last wash and tanked up the fuel. This was the last time I would be filling it up and then it would be back to where it came from, BMW India, Mumbai HQ. We left Panaji at about 5 pm, only to be greeted by traffic. It took us about two and half hours to reach our first check point, Sawantwadi. Here I took a chance to click the last set of pictures by the lake that lies at the centre of the town. From here onwards, we took the same route via Amboli, Ajara and Uttur to finally reach Nipani and the SH48 towards Pune, and then the Mumbai-Pune expressway towards Mumbai.
We did halt at this place called Hotel Harsh in Ajara, as a dinner stop was mandatory. This was the first time I visited this place and was quite surprised at the quality of the food they serve. They serve Veg. Thali, Chicken and Mutton Thali too. I opted for the Veg. Thali as I wanted to travel light, although it was anything but light. They serve you a jumbo, full course meal with two types of sweets, which included Gulab Jamun and a chocolate pastry. All this for just Rs. 120/-! After this stop, we headed directly for Pune and made superb progress till Panvel, where we literally came to a standstill. We reached Panvel at about 3 am, only to get stuck in a traffic jam. Yes, this was how I was welcomed into Mumbai, in typical Bambaiyya-style traffic. When they say Mumbai is the city of unending possibilities, they aren’t kidding, like literally!
I reached my home in Bandra by 4.30 am, as the roads were empty and I could really press on the accelerator, albeit being careful of the potholes. After a few hours of shut-eye, I was ready to return the car back. I opened the door one last time; cherished the vault-like door shut thud and the snug body-hugging seats. The sporty low driving position, driver focused cabin and that impeccably direct steering wheel, were things I was going to miss terribly. I pushed the engine start button one last time and wished I would never stop driving the BMW 320d. My destination was about 40 minutes away, but it felt like the journey was over in a flash! This is what a BMW can do to you; it will take you over and you wouldn’t even know you gave it up all to her.
Even after handing over the car, I was thinking about the pros and cons of this particular BMW 320d facelift. The Sportline trim has a more sporty interior, but for those who want a bit more luxury, there is the Luxuryline with dual tone interiors and softer cushioning for seats. Pros for this car remain the amazing driving dynamics and the drivetrain, while on the contrary, rear seat comfort could have been better. But trust me, when you have a driving dynamics package like the BMW 3-series, you wouldn’t be bothered to give a damn about the rear passengers (sorry mom!!). This car was built to be driven, to be in the driver’s seat and also provides you great comfort while doing so. The BMW 320d facelift carries on the legacy of its predecessors and with panache. As I reached home, I had a smile on my face and a feeling of utter satisfaction that I had driven a fabulous machine which would be remembered in future history as one of the best driving cars in the world!